Blogger's Note: This is the featured article from the June 2020 edition of our parish newsletter, DISCIPLE. If you are a registered parishioner and are not receiving DISCIPLE in the mail—or if you would like to join our parish—please contact the parish office at 763-497-2745 right away!
Each year, St. Paul-based NET Ministries sends scores of faith-filled missionaries across the country to draw teens into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. NET, which stands for National Evangelization Teams, is one of several opportunities that Catholic young people have to be disciple-makers—and St. Michael Catholic Church is one of their most consistent suppliers.
“The St. Michael-St. Albert community is easily in the top 10 percent of parishes for providing missionaries to NET, and most likely in the top five percent,” said NET’s Program Director Dave Rinaldi. “Some parishes develop a discipleship culture. Instead of merely teaching people about Jesus, these parishes provide opportunities for members to encounter Jesus. Another way to say this is that these parishes go beyond catechizing young people; they evangelize them and form them into lifelong disciples. One of the fruits of disciple-making is that the disciples, in turn, are eager to fulfill the great commission. They desire to go out and share the Gospel with others.”
To date, at least 14 young adults from the parish have served a year or more with NET, and several others have served with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), Totus Tuus and Damascus Catholic Youth Summer Camp. Additionally, in the past two decades, St. Michael has had numerous clergy and staff members who are NET alumni—including former pastor Fr. Michael Becker, current associate Fr. Joe Zabinski, our incoming pastor Fr. Brian Park and our incoming principal, Melissa Ginther.
Most NET teams travel by van throughout a region or across the country, but Ginther was a member of one of the first teams to be embedded in a parish, right here at St. Michael Catholic Church and School, in 2007-2008.
“When I was a junior, I had a really powerful encounter with Christ’s mercy on a mandatory NET retreat that we had to attend for Confirmation,” Ginther recalled. “I had a profound experience of God’s mercy in Confession. I knew from that moment on that I would find a way to spend a year on the road with NET.”
Fr. Park first learned about NET from a priest while attending Texas A&M University. He served on a traveling NET team in 2003-2004 and loved the experience so much, he moved to West St. Paul to join NET’s staff. He was appointed NET Ministries chaplain by Archbishop Bernard Hebda in 2018.
“I was planning on entering the seminary in the Fall of 2004 for my home diocese of Ft. Worth after my year with NET had ended, however, God had different plans,” he said. “I lived in the Twin Cities, got to know the area and got to know several priests in our Archdiocese…After a lot of prayer and discernment, I decided to become a seminarian for St. Paul and Minneapolis and join the Companions of Christ.”
Companions of Christ is a fraternity of archdiocesan priests including Fr. Peter Richards, Fr. Joe Zabinski, Fr. Nathan LaLiberte, Fr. Michael Becker and Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who is also a NET alumnus. More information is available at companionsofchrist.org.
What is it about NET and similar missionary organizations that transforms people and parishes? It’s the beauty of encountering authentic followers of Jesus who are living witnesses to the love and mercy of God in the real world of today.
“NET missionaries aren’t expert apologists; they simply love Jesus and share that love with those they encounter,” said Rinaldi. “People who spend time with them are likely to ‘catch’ their faith. Interestingly, when we first launched our discipleship team program [i.e., embedded teams like the one at St. Michael in 2007], our goal was to augment the parish’s already-existing youth programs. We realized, however, that our focus was too limited. We noticed that our missionaries weren’t just impacting the youth; they were helping the pastor change the culture of the whole parish. Since the NETters stay with local host families for two to three weeks at a time, they impact multiple generations.”
Missionary Disciples at St. Michael
Note: Current missionaries are listed in italics. If you know of others who should be included here, email [email protected].
“NET understands the art of forming disciples before sending them out on the road,” Ginther said. “It’s not that NETters are not following Christ closely before being accepted to NET, but the formation provided is second to none. They immerse missionaries in a life of daily prayer, authentic community, teamwork and constant growth.
“I knew when I was ‘on the road’ that I wanted to spend my life helping young people encounter Christ and become faithful disciples. … I never in my wildest dreams would have mapped my trajectory to the role of leading Catholic schools as a principal; however, in retrospect, the underlying call to lead as many young people to Christ while helping them live out the call to be fully alive has always been deeply embedded within my journey.”
“NET really teaches you how to serve, how to give of yourself,” Fr. Park said. “You also experience the tremendous gift and blessing of being a full-time minister of the Gospel, and that inspires a lot of NETters to continue to serve the Church throughout their life.”
According to Rinaldi, a parish culture of missionary discipleship begins at the top. “These pastors prioritize youth ministry by ensuring parish resources are available for ministry,” he said. “They also take an active role in reaching out to the young people of the parish and encouraging them to live their baptismal call to evangelize.”
If that’s the case, our current leadership team bodes well for NET and other missionary organizations for years to come.
For more information:
- NET Ministries: netusa.org
- FOCUS: focus.org
- Totus Tuus: archspm.org/catholic-education-youth-formation/family-ministries/totus-tuus/
- Damascus Catholic Youth Summer Camps: damascus.net
If you are interested in supporting any of this year’s missionaries, contact communications manager Jim Thorp at 763-497-2745 ext. 245 or [email protected].